Shin Fujiyama sits at the table wearing his Oakland Athletics hat and his Philadelphia 76ers shirt, encouraging and advising my friend, Michelle. “When I was your age I had no idea what I wanted to do either,” he told her in response to her statement of pre-upperclassman indecision.
When Shin was her age (a Junior in college), he probably didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. But that didn’t last too long. It was about this time that Shin went on a trip to Honduras that would change his life and lives of thousands of others. Now this wasn’t his first trip to Honduras. He had first traveled to this underdeveloped country in 2004 and seen how many of the people of Honduras live in shantytowns at the base of mountains. Each of their houses is essentially a box of tin that gets flooded every time it rains and torn down every time a gang raids the shantytown. People have come through these deprived villages before and made promises of relocating their people to a safer area, only to prove these promises empty when those same people didn’t want to put in the time and effort required to make them a reality. Sometimes projects would become half-completed and then the unfinished product is turned into most dangerous of neighborhoods, a perfect spot for gangs to live and drug deals to be carried out.
Two years after his initial visit to Honduras, Mr. Fujiyama found himself making food and supply runs with a nun to one of these shantytowns. Before leaving for the states, he received a picture drawn for him by a girl named Carmen. The picture, drawn in the one color of Crayon® she had, was of a cinder block house with a roof and a palm tree growing outside. Written in Spanish next to this picture were the words, “Chin and Cosmo, my family is very poor. Would you build a home for us?” Shin was moved by the picture and promised the girl that he and his friends back home at Mary Washington would do whatever they could to help Carmen and her family.
It wasn’t until Shin was headed to the San Pedro Sula airport that he realized the gravity of his promise to little Carmen. He was determined not to back down on his word, though; so when he got back home, he immediately began campaigning. After organizing a lot of fundraisers with his friends, including dozens of bake sales, he was able to raise $288,000 for what was slowly becoming a not-for-profit organization later to be called Students Helping Honduras.
With a little seed money, Shin went down to Honduras and began making plans and learning everything he needed to know about taking up the large and difficult task of moving an entire community. To get started, he first had to actually convince members of this shantytown community that he was for real – that he would not only see this project through to its ultimate conclusion, but that he had the funding to support this endeavor and that such a move would actually be beneficial for the community. In the end, Shin was able to rally around 65 families to start this long moving project.
For the next thirty days, he traveled around from village to village, trying to find decently sized plots of land that could be bought for a relatively small price. After long, exhausting hours and a brush with death brought on by the dengue fever, Shin and his associates found two great plots of land. At that point, the people of the community unanimously voted on the 13-acre plot of land upon which Villa Soleada currently resides.
Difficulty after problem after obstacle continued to get in the way of the Villa Soleada project, though. Families who had previously committed to the project began dropping out for various reasons. By the time the village was finished, only 44 families from the original group of 65 were left. On one occasion, the storage shed housing all of the construction supplies for Villa Soleada was robbed at gunpoint by a local gang, and nearly everything was stolen. These problems and more arose one after the other hoping to throw off the course of this project, but Shin with his friends and family along with the final 44 families were already committed and nothing had a chance of standing in their way.
The 13 acres of land Shin had bought was basically nothing but an overgrown swamp swarming with flies, mosquitoes, and snakes not even accessible by road; but after 700 days of intense work from SHH, university chapter volunteers, and the families of Villa Soleada themselves (with help from a $50,000 donation from the President of Honduras), the village was done. It had a working sewage system, electricity, water tower and piping system, and even a library. In December 2009, 44 exhausted and excited families moved into their brand new homes.
On Wednesday, we woke up at our normal times and ate our routine cereal breakfast, but this time, we did not head outside to work. Instead, we all hopped on the bus and traveled around the city for a few hours, visiting different sites at which Shin and SHH were leading school building projects.
I’ll back up a second to explain. Upon the completion of Villa Soleada, Shin had a chance run in with a gentleman named Ramon at the El Progreso mayor’s office. Ramon’s village, Por Venir, had a problem. Its school looked a lot like the one that’s on the left. As you can see, all this kind of school needs is a little bit of rain for it to be canceled for the day, and it rains a lot in Honduras.
This is not an uncommon problem for the country whose government reports that more than 1,000 such villages have schools that are in some cases worse off than this one, if they have a school at all. However, Shin didn’t let this stop him. Since SHH had recently come into some unexpected funds, Shin began building a 3-classroom school for Por Venir using SHH resources. Only two months later, the village had a sturdy school with a nice, solid roof. It was during this building project, that Shin met Marco Ramos, who I met on the very first day of work at Villa Soleada.
These days, SHH now has built or is in the process of building 3-classroom schools like the one in Por Venir for 9 other villages – the three most recent of which our group visited. In fact, the week after we left, the volunteers at Villa Soleada (some new, some of them were part of our group staying for a second week) enjoyed another long day of filling in the concrete floors for one of the three schools we visited.
On one of these visits, we were brought to a developing school that was a little more than halfway finished. It was just down the street from where the village currently holds its classes – in a bar. To make matters worse for education in Honduras, the teacher’s organization is currently on strike and has been for a while. The only schools that are still in session are taught by privately paid teachers (for instance, the school at Villa Solaeada). This does not bode well for Honduras. The children of that country are their future, just like the kids of America are our future. So if the future of Honduras is not being educated, what will happen to them? I can predict that drugs will start playing a role as primary in Honduras as it is in Colombia. I would be willing to bet that the gangs will grow larger, poverty will become rampant, and the government will fall to shambles. So I applaud SHH and Central American Children’s Institute for making a difference in Honduras’ future one village at a time.
Once we had visited the three schools in Pimientera, Bella Aurora, and La Nuñez (the last of which we may have accidentally interrupted a class, but the kids enjoyed getting to spend some time playing and talking with the volunteers), we headed back to Villa Soleada where we ate lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon working on various tasks, mostly building walls in different areas around the volunteer lodge. Loyda and I were stationed at the up-and-coming mess hall, laying cinder blocks with a man named Pastor on the top of the 12-foot tall wall. Sometime in the afternoon, work was called “over” for the day and everyone left for a late afternoon rendezvous with Coach Eddie, a friend of Shin’s who teaches the kids of the children’s home MMA/kickboxing 3 days a week as a kind of therapy for the kids to positively release the violent nature they were raised in. Unfortunately for Loyda and I, we were too busy working and talking to Pastor to realize what was going on and were left behind with a few others who were more keen on resting than kickboxing, so I am unable to tell you much else about Coach Eddie and his facility other than the fact that all the girls thought he was smokin’.
Another evening went by filled with the usual routine of clean-up, dinner, hangout, and sleep, and was followed by another morning out on the town instead of working in the village. This time, we went to Guaimilito Market in San Pedro Sula where we spent the morning shopping for souvenirs, machetes, jerseys, and gifts to take home to our loved ones. Sara’s parents joined us in the market and her mother really helped me get some good bargains (I’m terrible at haggling). After an hour and a half, we were headed back to Villa where we again ate lunch and spent one final afternoon building on the walls around the volunteer lodge.
Due to the fact that us Texas people were leaving Friday night for home instead of Saturday morning, the rest of the volunteers graciously changed the plans of having a night in the city on Friday to having a night in the city on Thursday. We went to a delicious taco restaurant called Mr. Taco where we stuffed ourselves full of pork tacos, beef tacos, chicken tacos, and cheese quesadillas. Then we went back to the bar we had gone to Sunday evening and enjoyed a night of dancing and talking and just hanging out before going back to Villa Soleada and passing out.
The next day, we headed to Tela Beach on the north coast of Honduras. The beach was actually pretty large and kind of pretty, lined with palm trees and restaurants. Unfortunately for me, I burn easily, so I spent a good deal of my time in the shade. We were on the beach all day until four in the afternoon, napping, playing, chilling, and swimming. The locals of northern Honduras are an Afro-Caribbean race who even have their own language. They sold us things like coconut candy, coconut bread, and coconut milk straight from the coconut. The entire group, apart from Jilli, Jenny, and I went on a very…sketchy boat trip down the coast that turned out to be nothing but a good tan for most of them. Overall, though, we had a blast hanging out at the beach on our last full day together.
At four, we headed back to Villa Soleada and the 5 of us from Texas began packing for the airport. We spent the rest of the afternoon until dinner playing with the kids of the village and taking pictures together in an effort to get as much quality time with everyone as possible. After dinner, the kids made a nice bonfire for us and we all went outside and roasted marshmallows. We were joined by two girls from UNC-Greensboro who were early arrivals for the following week’s volunteer project. All of us sat around the bonfire while the kids did push-ups for marshmallows, played games with the girls, or climbed on Obi. Before we knew it, though, the fire was dying and it was time for us to leave. So we said our goodbyes to everyone and got on the bus with Sara who was joining her parents in San Pedro Sula that evening.
After spending an unnecessarily long amount of time in line at the airport, we finally boarded our plane and were headed to Miami. Some very frightening turbulence (which I may or may not have slept through) and an awful customs line at FLL later, we were in the sky again, headed home to Dallas.
Now looking back on the trip, I see all of the things that really inspired me to start working toward the plans God has for me. I don’t know about you, but Shin’s story of perseverance is extremely inspiring to me. All it took was one strong-willed person and some great friends and now the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been changed in just 5 short years. That gives me more hope than I have ever had before and encourages me to follow my dreams. I don’t know if Shin is a Christian or not, but I do know that God worked some crazy miracles in his life. All of the obstacles he had to overcome, randomly knocking on Doris Buffet’s (sister of Warren Buffet, insanely rich entrepreneur) door, receiving support from the Honduran government – a lot of “coincidental” things happened that gave Shin the supernatural support he needed to make this incredible difference in a country that desperately needs change. I don’t know what you guys believe, but I don’t believe in coincidences…ever. I believe that God has His hands in everything, no matter how small.
Just think of all the awesome things we could do for this world if we’d just put our faith in God to help us see them through! According to the US government, there are about 50 nations in the world that are classified as third world countries, meaning their GNI (gross national income) is substantially low, their human resources are weak, and their economy is vulnerable. These include countries like Nepal, Haiti, Rwanda, and Cambodia – each nation with different needs to bring their people out of poverty. Rwanda needs to end civil war and Cambodia needs to end human trafficking. Find something that you are passionate about and find someone who needs your help. Then don’t stop until you’ve done everything you can to help them – if Shin’s amazing story can teach us anything, it’s perseverance, because God can use anyone to do anything. They just have to be willing.
As for me, I’ve found my passion for now in Honduras and helping the people there as best I can. I don’t know if this is my place in life or if God is using it as a step in His directio – either way is fine with me (I’m also seriously considering the Peace Corps upon graduation after conversations with some of the girls in my earlier blogs). I’m heading up the first ever Texas chapter of Students Helping Honduras here at UT Dallas. Through this group, I hope to do awareness events to make known the conditions in Honduras that I have described in these blogs. I also want to do fundraising for SHH and Central American Children’s Institute and plan on using this student organization to organize future trips with SHH and CeCI. If you are a student at UTD and are interested in joining, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, if you would like to donate to the children’s home in Villa Soleada, go to onecupofcoffee.org.
Donations toward building more schools in Honduras can be made at ceciskids.org/donate. As soon as I have the UTD chapter of SHH completely founded and connected with SHH in Honduras, we will set up our own page and fundraising project. I will post the info for that here at that time.
Finally, Shin has his own blog called shinfujiyama.com. Feel free to stop by every now and then to read updates on how all of the projects are going in El Progreso. Trust me, there is always something new happening over there. Shin and his incredibly talented cast of associates are always finding new places of need in and around the city of El Progreso alone.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone who supported my trip to El Progreso both in prayer and in donations. Every bit of it was a blessing. Also I’d like to apologize for my tardiness in completing this chapter of my blog. I know it doesn’t really matter to anyone, but I planned on finishing this weeks ago. I ran into personal troubles that I had to deal with firsthand and they occupied my time for the past several weeks. So I apologize for that.
Anyway, that’s all I have for you for now. I will periodically update you guys in what the UTD SHH chapter is doing and when upcoming trips are scheduled.